In short – ‘platicar’ and ‘hablar’ can both be synonyms of ‘to talk’, but only ‘hablar’ is a synonym of ‘to speak’. There are also various set phrases that only work with one or the other.
As a learner of Spanish this might seem a bit confusing as there’s no exact equivalent of the English verbs ‘to speak’ and ‘to talk’.
So, how do we identify each word’s different uses if there’s no clear-cut English equivalent?
Well, stick around for the ultimate showdown between ‘platicar’ and ‘hablar’!
‘Platicar‘ vs ‘hablar‘
If we take a quick dive into the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, the definition of ‘platicar’ is actually ‘conversar’ or ‘to converse’.
‘Hablar’, on the other hand, has an extensive list of definitions.
From the simple ‘uttering words’ (i.e., ‘speaking’), to ‘speaking at an event’ or ‘describing HOW someone speaks’ (i.e., eloquently, slowly, etc.), ‘hablar’ is basically akin to both the English ‘to speak’ AND ‘to talk’.
As such, a simple solution to the ‘platicar’ vs ‘hablar’ conundrum is to think of ‘hablar’ as a more general concept (like ‘to speak’ in English) and to use ‘platicar’ mainly when there’s conversation or chatter involved.
For example –
‘Hablar’ can be used when referring to someone speaking at a conference / event –
Después de una conferencia
Hablaste muy bien; creo que todos aprendimos un montón.
After a conference
You spoke really well; I think we all learnt a lot.
‘Hablar’ is also often used as a synonym of ‘making a written statement’ (it’s very uncommon to find ‘platicar’ used in this way) –
En su diálogo Sofista, Platón habló del mundo de las ideas.
In his dialogue The Sophist, Plato spoke of the world of ideas.
As mentioned previously, ‘hablar’ can also be a synonym of ‘to talk’ –
En su nuevo libro, la Dra. Gómez habla acerca de la inteligencia emocional.
In her new book, Dr. Gomez talks about emotional intelligence.
If you want to say ‘to converse’ or ‘to chat’ (and sometimes ‘to talk’), ‘platicar’ will often be your verb of choice –
Me gustaría platicar contigo sobre lo ocurrido el viernes.
I’d like to talk to you about what happened on Friday.
¡Jimena y yo estuvimos platicando por Zoom durante horas!
Jimena and I were chatting on Zoom for hours!
But keep in mind that you CAN also use ‘hablar’ to mean ‘to converse’ or ‘to chat’, so there’s definitely quite a lot of overlap in this sense!
¡Me encanta hablar contigo después de clase!
I love talking to you after class!
1. You can use ‘hablar’ as a synonym of BOTH ‘to speak’ and ‘to talk’.
2. You can use ‘platicar’ when referring to an oral conversation or an informal speech or talk, similar to the English ‘to chat’ or ‘to talk’ (with someone or about something).
‘Platicón’ vs ‘hablador’
These two words AREN’T actually synonyms!
‘Platicón’ refers to a talkative person, especially when it comes to trivial matters; it’s kind of like the English ‘chatterbox’ or ‘chatty’.
‘Hablador’ can mean the same thing, but more often than not, it’s used to describe a ‘liar’ or a ‘phony’.
¡Susana es bien platicona! No paraba de hablar de sus viajes en la fiesta.
Susana is such a chatterbox! She wouldn’t stop talking about her travels at the party.
Ese candidato es un hablador. Solo promete cosas a la gente, pero no cumple nada.
That candidate is just a phony. He keeps promising the people things, but he never delivers.
Erika’s note – notice that the conjugation ‘es’ is used in both examples as we’re referring to more PERMANENT qualities. Check out our article on ‘es’ vs ‘está’ (the equivalent conjugation of the verb ‘estar’) to find out more!
Expressions with ‘hablar’ and ‘platicar’
Hablar hasta por los codos
This popular phrase literally translates to ‘talking up to their elbows’ (can you imagine?), but it just refers to someone who talks too much!
We could compare it to the English ‘to talk someone’s ear off’ or ‘to talk your head off’.
No puedo concentrarme, Miguel habla hasta por los codos.
I can’t focus, Miguel has been talking my ear off.
Estuve hablando hasta por los codos, pero ella simplemente me ignoraba.
I was talking my head off, but she just ignored me.
Platica demasiado en clase
This phrase means ‘talks too much in class’ and it’s a phrase that Mexican teachers stamp in the notebooks of students who chat too much to their classmates!
Fun fact: the stamp also often featured the figure of a parrot.
Una madre interroga a su hijo
A ver, Alberto, dice tu maestro que platicas demasiado en clase. ¿Por qué no pones atención?
A mother interrogates her son
Alberto, your teacher says that you talk too much in class. Why don’t you pay attention?
So now you know the subtle – but important – differences between ‘platicar’ and ‘hablar’ in Spanish!
Hopefully I’ve cleared up the essentials and that you now feel confident enough to use these two verbs when talking to your Spanish-speaking friends.
Who knows, with your new mad Spanish skills you may end up ‘hablando hasta por los codos’ like a true native …
Make sure to check out our piece on ‘escoger‘ vs ‘elegir‘ if you’re in the mood for another Spanish vocab showdown!
¡Hasta la próxima!